Peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, apples, lucozade, snickers, water, money, railcard, watch, phone, long sleeve top and my camelbak for it all to go in.
I usually only need a day of doing pretty much nothing before I feel I have to do something that gets the blood pumping and the brain firing. The hip injury I’d picked up somehow back in April has been rested over the last few months and slowly I’ve been pulling the miles back in over the last few weeks. Crossing part of the city to get to the route didn’t take too long, as soon as I was on the trail the chaos of the roads disappeared and my whole brain and body relaxed. The green tunnels began and I put one foot in front of the other and enjoyed the journey.
A few days after that run to Winchester along the Itchen way I kept thinking about where else I could go that isn’t in the city, what other trail routes are there close enough to manage in a day? The Test Way popped in my head, as I know it finishes in Totton, which is only a few miles from home and my dad has done it so knows the route. I decided with dad as support to give it a go. 42 miles. What I thought and still think is, if I really want to enter the UTMB, which is over 100 miles with over 30,000 feet of ascent and descent, then I must be able to manage 42 miles at this stage. My thinking is I try and enter the 2017 UTMB, which gives me about 2 years to get ready. Seeing as you need 9 qualifying points to enter from just 3 races means it’s not going to be easy in any way, it’s in fact going to be by far the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted…EVER! I don’t physically and mentally know if it will be possible but it’s something I have to try.
So Wednesday it was, after a skinful with friends on the previous Sunday I was glad to be feeling good with the aftermath of tequila, ale, rum and then sausage and chips on a park bench now in the faded distance of my head and stomach. Strangely I was feeling a little nervous as if before a race or gig. I guess the looming distance of near on 50 miles was the culprit of the butterflies. We left at 6.30am and drove to Inkpen in Berkshire where the route starts and or finishes depending on what way you are going. Now I’m not gonna write out the route place by place as to be honest I don’t remember all that sort of stuff very well. I can say though that some of the route was truly beautiful and running through metre high cornfields alone under the British summer sky was a highlight that brought on a wonderful feeling of content and thoughtful loneliness. The route was marked well in some places and not very well in others, in fact it wasn’t marked at all which caused me to add a few miles to the journey. Main roads made me stressed, as nobody really likes running with the traffic. I got lost quite a lot to be honest and getting lost at around 43 miles didn’t add to my tired mood. But then a giant rainbow appeared after a heavy downpour, I could see the start and finish so that helped ease the mind a bit and I had to smile, I didn’t find any gold though. I would have taken a photo but by this time my phone had died due to the battery drain of Strava and GPS tracking my route. I was out of contact for the last 7 miles or so and was slightly relieved to see Dad waiting with the car as I came to the end of the route.
I learnt a few things on this run. I had to walk some of the way, which is part and parcel of doing such long distances for someone like me. Only the few elite can run non-stop and those men and woman are true athletes. I was very happy that I did manage to make it running and walking. It was hard at times but for most of the journey I was in a good place in my head, which is the most important thing when it comes to such long distances. The legs will hurt that’s a given but if I can keep my mind at ease then I stand a better chance. As much as I don’t like them, the 2 isotonic gels I took really helped. I couldn’t stomach chocolate very well though, the one snickers made me feel sick. Apples were very good which was something I’d never had before whilst out covering long distances. Having a support team was brilliant and cheers to my Dad for being at the different places with supplies and guidance, I think he’s gonna have to help quite a few more times over the next couple of years.
The legs were stiff for a few days after but nothing more than as if I’d run a road marathon so recovery was good. I burned around 7300 calories and was out there around 10 hours. Burning that many calories and being out there that long, both a first.
A week later whilst on a couple days off on tour I was in Switzerland so thought I’d try and get some miles under the belt up in the hills. I managed 24 miles with not much supplies and a lot of rain. But again I thought in my mind if I cant handle some of these hills then how am I going to handle running though the Alps?? Again my mind was in a good relaxed place and I realise it has to be to achieve what I want to do over the next 2 years.
On returning home from a recent musical jaunt to France and Switzerland I have entered my first 50 mile race along the South Downs Way and will attempt to enter the 100 mile race as well. These are certified qualifying races to enter the 2017 UTMB but they operate on a first come first served limited amount of runners basis. The races aren’t until next year, which gives me time to train and focus. I will have to run more qualifiers to stand a chance and then its potluck if you do get in to the UTMB. It’s one of the most popular trail runs in the world and entry is a lottery (for runners like me). We’ll have to wait and see.
This journey will take some time. Step by step. Onwards.
I am Dave Pen
On the train heading to the studio up near Cambridge to do some writing and recording. The sun is flickering and flashing through the trees and windows on the train, that’s a certain way to trigger a migraine. I’ve had to put my sunglasses on, I look a bit like a jackal with my black hat, black puffa coat and now black sunglasses, I have no intentions of starting a fire and I’m not carrying anything illegal. I’ve been on a blog lull of late and haven’t entered anything since the big slab of photographic evidence from The Quest for Mont Blanc. That seems far away now but I know she is still there waiting and taking anybody who chooses to attempt to summit and touch the top of her head. So from the open space way up on top of western Europe’s highest point to the crammed stuffy germ filled carriages of trains zooming to the capital of England. Nobody wants to sit next to someone else, including me if I’m honest and I’ve been carrying the lurgy for a few weeks now. Starting from my nose to my head, then my limbs and now my chest, which is just where I didn’t want it to set up phloem camp. Its hit me hard enough to have to cancel my final endurance test of the year which was my first ultra marathon of forty five miles down on the Dorset coast this Saturday. I’m truly gutted, I wanted to sign the year off with a big test and now I cant and it’s made me itchy and irritable. Fuck you germy virus fucks. Get out and don’t come back no more.
I’m not sure why I’ve not blogged of late, maybe I’ve been doing too much and finding the actual time to sit and write out what’s happened seems like a memory slog . A few random past thoughts are – Touring with BirdPen across Europe was like the miles we covered, some were long and slow and some went quickly and I enjoyed most of the ride, a record new zero funds made on the merchandise in Stockholm, a blown tire on the Autobahn, shady Czech traffic cops, horrible Swiss border Nazi’s, tambourine thief’s in Berlin, chocolate cake in Bern, happy faces at the front of the crowd, serious arm crossers at the front of the crowd, nobody at the front of the crowd. Dancing till dawn, coffee and doughnuts, good luck charms, welcoming promoters, backstage invaders, going deaf and vomiting, needing sleep and needing more sleep. The birds will always find the antennas and we will continue to transmit.
I’m on route to the studio to record vocals and guitars for new Archive material, Darius and I spent a day together last week demoing some ideas which I’m exited about, we then spent six hours watching a world war two three part drama and ate lots of food. Perhaps we were fuelling up for the oncoming fuzz marathon of playing live in 2015. Next year will be full on from what I can see and the new album, which is called Restriction, is out January 2015. It will be great to get it out there on the road. So 2015 will bring a whole wedge packed whack of new sounds. I will have three albums out by the end of spring. Archive – Restrictions in January BirdPen – In The Company Of Imaginary Friends in March and We are Bodies in April of which The Kendal mad man Robin Foster and I just mastered this wonderful album in Abbey road. Always a special place to work and topped off nicely by getting to see Underworld perform live straight to Vinyl in Studio one, what a nice way to celebrate finishing the album. Sometimes my job is truly the best job in the world! I don’t know how I’m going to remember all the words I have written though.
Final words and am gonna close this one, I’m DJ’ing with the Manglebird and a bunch of dear friends this Saturday, then off Warsaw and Berlin for Restrictions playback party’s next week. I have to admit I’m gutted my legs wont hurt, guess I’ll open the sets with Road to Nowhere by Talking heads. I am Dave Pen
I’m not going to go through this blog mile by mile so to speak, that would take far too long and be too painful, plus I can’t remember every mile as most of them after mile 13 just turned into a long slow blur of pain, wind, water stations and jelly baby induced desperation.
To start with I was all over the place trying to get ready, I left it a bit late to sort my gear out, it was 8.45 and I was still munching on a bacon sandwich down in the hotel restaurant. I was leaving at 9.15 and that 30 minutes went like the wind, unlike I would. Running 26.2 miles of one of Britain’s toughest and unforgiving marathons that is the Snowdonia Marathon.
After I got dropped off at Llanberis where the start of the race was, I popped in the porta loo for a quick wee, being slightly nervous at running my first marathon my alone time of quick relief wasn’t helped by the fact that probably one of the last surviving wasps of the Snowdonia region had decided to give it one more shout of space invading annoyance by hovering around my head whilst I tried to aim straight. Not being a fan of wasps in any way shape or armoured form I quickly got out of there sting free and went out in the fresh air against a massive stone wall alongside other blokes in spandex and vests.
I hung around near the start line taking in the vibes and pre race nerves with my Dads mate Dave. My dad was supposed to run the marathon with his mate Dave but had picked up a knee injury and decided (very wisely) I might add to drop out just a few hours before the start. These two cats go way back and have run a stack of marathons between them, with my dads best time on Snowdon being a strong 3 hours 12 minutes.
I got interviewed by the local Film crew alongside Dave about why I was running the race so gave the Trekstock charity a good plug and mentioned that this marathon was part of a few endurance events in the build up for the Archive Quest for Mont Blanc taking part next summer. Not sure the plug made the final edited TV cut though. My Welsh is zero.
Now it was race time. The long 6-mile hill from the start of Llanberis was a nice challenge and I dealt with it well. From the top of Pen-y-gwryd the downhill was a joy and I cruised naively down like a young fawn bounding across the moors. At the bottom of this, the course went into an off road section which was quick with a high tempo and I was focused at watching every step along the rocky and stony path. I was having a great time at this point and continued to do so. All was going well when I saw the 12 mile marker, I thought to myself this would be a really good run if it was a half marathon, oh to dream, and thinking like that was a warning sign of what was to come. I came through the halfway point to smiles and cheers from my family, I managed to catch a glimpse of my little 5 month old daughter wrapped up with her little face looking a little like I was to feel a few miles later, a bit lost, confused and in need of some TLC.
So after the happy faces of support I started to notice things getting a lot harder, I just didn’t realise the next 10 miles would all be up hill. It just went on and on and on, every corner I could see in the distance I started to pray it would level out after that and it just didn’t, and it took no prisoners. I started to notice a runner who kept over taking me then stopping about 100 metres in front and walking until I caught up with him and over took him, for him to then run past me for another 100 metres to then stop and walk again. He did this about 5 times, which slowly just made me want to stop as well, and it finally did. I finally had to stop and walk at about 16 miles. From then on it was a test of how far I could run before I had to stop and walk for a bit. I carried on running at a slower pace after this and water stations became mental havens for me where I knew I could stop for a bit and drink what was truly the sacred water of the mountains. I have never tasted water so nice than on that Marathon, to the point of carrying a little sealed cup of the stuff with me for the rest of the race as a good luck token or something like that. I was getting a bit desperate.
I carried on upwards and upwards then came to part of the route called Walnfowr. I had been told this was a proper “Tough Bit” of the race. Everyone around me including a bloke on a bike just stopped to a walk/shuffle. I tried to walk for a minute, and then shuffle for a minute, and then walk for a minute and so on to slowly make my way up. As I was doing this I heard a chap behind me chatting about how once the race was over they would hit the local pub for a couple of jager bombs and some whiskeys, I looked behind me to see who this rock n roll speaking hard core geezer might look like and low and behold it was an old friend from my skateboarding youth days, Mr Dean Jones. I said “dean Jones” to him to which he didn’t recognise me to which I then told him it was I, Dave Penney, he laughed and said what the hell are you doing here? I said the same thing to him and we struggled on together for about a minute or so before his legs stretched just a bit further than mine and he moved slowly forward. What a random place to see an old mate huh? Brilliant.
I got to the top of Walnfowr and the wind was howling across the wide-open space of this bleak looking puddle filled summit. It was proper grim and incredibly hard to stay motivated. Even the jelly babies were quite un-inspired. I stopped for another wee and just let the wind blow me into a high grassy bank, the term “pissing in the wind” ringing like a massive siren of truth in my head, I had stopped caring by then and wanted this ridiculous challenge to end. I pushed forward and made it to the descent, which was tuff in the totally opposite way of the previous 2 miles. Not being able to quite stop yourself moving very quickly downhill after 24 or so miles is a strange, painful and testing feeling on the hips, legs, feet, and brain. Down it went across the fells, rocks and mud. I had to keep my concentration in tact so as not to slip or fall or slip which would at that point, really hurt. It was with joyous sound to then be told by a supporting stranger “come on, the end is just around the corner”. This was music to my ears so I stepped it up as much as I could and around a beautiful grey-concreted corner was the end. I gave it my all as the crowd cheered me and the other runners coming to the end with legs burning, tears in my eyes and a proper wad of snot hanging from my nose I made it across the finish line in 4hours 09 minutes and 21 seconds.
I took my medal (a piece of welsh Slate), another bottle of water and wrapped in a space blanket walked alone to a corner and had a little sob whilst scoffing more jelly babies. I was thrilled to have finished and have never truly done anything as hard as that before in my life. What a brilliant and ridiculous sport marathon running is and the support and camaraderie was superb. A proper bunch of nutters do this and I kind of felt at home with it all. My family all supported me on this, which were lovely and my Dads mate Dave finished at around 5 and a half hours which was great.
I ended the day in a nice pub drinking ale watching the SFC beat Fulham, followed by a couple of rums and a curry. I went to bed a bit tipsy thinking about the next marathon I have in December.
Why am I doing this?
I am Dave Pen